MEET SOME VERY HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED PEOPLE. THEY DON’T NEED FIXING.
They don’t need pity. Or lowered expectations. They deserve dignity, opportunities, and respect for their achievements.
We expect nothing less for all blind people.
When it’s a beautiful day, our students ‘see’ it in a new way. Our scientifically-proven FlashSonar™ echolocation lights-up the brain’s Visual Cortex with audible spatial ‘mapping’ to light-up their world and enable them get the most out of every day.
Read their stories, and those of other blind people we admire. We begin by introducing our own Perceptual Navigation Instructors, and other members of our Team who live a ‘NO LIMITS’ day everyday.
You don’t need sight to be a visionary!
It’s been an incredible journey for Daniel Kish from the moment he could walk, to traveling the world helping to bring freedom of movement to more blind persons.
Daniel was born in 1966 in Montebello, California. Diagnosed with retinoblastoma, an aggressive cancer of the retina, he lost one eye and then the other by the age of 13 months.
How do you go from losing your sight as an infant, to ‘seeing with sound’ as the real-life BatMan and helping to lead a global movement to bring self-directed Perceptual Freedom to blind persons of all ages? Find out: Daniel Kish. #BlindNotBroken.
You don’t need sight to find opportunities in blind spots!
Brian Bushway is one of the proudest legacies of Daniel Kish’s education and liberation of blind persons. Brian was born and raised in southern California and lost his sight at age 14 to optic nerve atrophy . His resulting isolation and depression were soon lifted as he began training with Daniel. Brian then went on to eventually qualify to work as a Perceptual Navigation Instructor with World Access For The Blind, while earning his college degrees.
Brian was named by ‘Mountain Bike Action Magazine’ as the ‘world’s best totally blind mountain biker’.
You don’t need sight to set two Guinness World Records!
Juan Ruiz was born in Mexico, and eventually became a United States Citizen.
Blind from birth, Juan was one of our earliest students at World Access For The Blind, he was a California Interscholastic Federation Wrestling Champion, and has worked as an education assistant, a mechanic and a landscaper. Today he is one of our Perceptual Navigation Instructors.
You may have already seen Juan on Discovery, National Geographic and other TV networks that have reached over two billion viewers.
You don’t need sight to make your dreams come true!
Blind from the age of 12, J began teaching himself FlashSonar™ from materials published online by World Access For The Blind President Daniel Kish.
After further training from Daniel, we’re proud to have J as the newest member of our team. Multilingual, he has coached students in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Germany and Italy, and is working towards a Master’s degree in O&M with aspirations towards a doctorate in Law or Anthropology.
J tells his students and audiences to ‘do your own impossible’.
MEET SOME MORE VERY HIGHLY ACCOMPLISHED PEOPLE. BUT FIRST HELP US TO REACH MORE.
You’ve met our team, and BELOW, we’re very proud to introduce some of our current and former students, as well as other blind persons we admire, who are all seizing opportunities and living fulfilling lives of purpose, achievement and dignity.
We expect nothing less for all blind people.
You can help make that happen for other blind children, teens and adults by making a donation to support tuition scholarships for our students via any of the donation platforms listed below.
Then, meet some more extraordinary people who are
BLIND. NOT BROKEN.
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NOW MEET SOME OF OUR STUDENTS AND OTHER BLIND PERSONS WHO LIGHT-UP OUR WORLD
Media stories about blind persons often refer to them ‘overcoming’ blindness, as though it’s a barrier to achievement or living as a whole human being. You’re about to meet some extraordinary persons, some blind since birth, and others who have lost their sight later in life, who have all adapted to this sensory loss and make the most of every day.
One interesting contrast you may notice between our current and former students and some famous blind people we admire, is that our students have achieved the self-directed independence of Perceptual Freedom, while the others were, or are dependent on human guides.
Your support helps us to liberate more blind people from that well-intentioned dependency.
Ethan David Loch
You don’t need sight to become a musical virtuoso!
Blind from birth, Ethan’s first language was music and sound – perhaps a natural development from having a concert pianist for a mother.
WAFTB’s Daniel Kish has worked with Ethan from the age of two, and also returned to Scotland when Ethan was 10 and freshly accepted as the first blind pupil at the highly esteemed St. Mary’s Music School. Ethan’s musical abilities as a performer and composer continue to evolve and astound, while his Perceptual Navigation abilities evolve on a parallel track. We’re proud to share with you his accomplishments as examples of what the right opportunities and resources can bring.
You don’t need sight to reach for the stars.
John Pak’s life-changing moment came when he was 11 years old and started training with Daniel Kish in FlashSonar™ Echolocation.
He applied WAFTB’s ‘No Limits’ philosophy on his way to earning a college degree, serving his country with honor in the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, and reaching for the stars at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center where he champions inclusion by assisting disabled persons in obtaining gainful employment at Goddard.
John is also the Past-Chairperson of the Board of Directors of World Access For The Blind. We’re very grateful for his inspiring example of service.
You don’t need sight to be a passionate advocate!
Shawn Marsolais has been that and more for visually-impaired and blind children and their families for almost two decades.
Born with Retinitis Pigmentosa, Shawn’s vision has progressively deteriorated to less than two percent, but she has fully adjusted to life as a blind person, a blind athlete at the Paralympics and in Canadian swimming, and as a blind mother.
After training with WAFTB’s Daniel Kish in Vancouver, Shawn was inspired to provide services and support for partially-sighted and blind children, youth and their families by starting Blind Beginnings.
You don’t need sight to be a top software engineer.
David Tseng started working with Daniel shortly after he lost his sight at the age of 11 due to a rare genetic disease called FEVR.
He credits Daniel’s instruction and guidance in helping him transition from a boy, angry about losing his sight, to a capable young man determined to succeed.
According to David, “Having a mobility coach who was blind himself and so successful and independent was a huge inspiration to me.”
He’s also been part of the prestigious Ph.d program in Computer Science at the University of Washington.
You don’t need sight to make your mark on the Literary and Performing Arts.
Alexia Sloane lost her sight at age two from a brain tumor that she still lives with.
At age six, Alexia wanted to learn a new language, starting with Chinese, adding Spanish and French by age nine, followed by Arabic and Russian. After winning ‘Most Courageous Child’ from a newspaper, she got to interpret for a U.K. member of the EU Parliament.
A winner of numerous Poetry and Literary prizes, Alexia is studying Composition and Recorder at the Royal College of Music Junior Division and is a Composer with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
You don’t need sight to stand at the top of the world.
Erik Weihenmayer has a thing about heights. He likes reaching them. While losing his sight to juvenile retinoschisis, Erik got a guide dog, started competitive wrestling and rock climbing. A double major in English and Communications from Boston College led him to teach middle-school, but the climbing bug bit again.
He conquered Mt. McKinley (Denali) in 1995, and became the only blind person ever to summit Mt. Everest in 2001. That led to a Time Magazine cover and a quest to climb the Seven Summits, and later kayaking the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
You don’t need sight to make incredible paintings.
Laura Meddens lost her sight as an adult, but that didn’t stop her from raising two children, co-founding a start-up to help people live a more ‘Abled’ life, and then discovering her talent as a visual artist.
Laura first achieved more independent mobility with a guide-dog from the Seeing Eye®, and later did some FlashSonar™ Echolocation training with Daniel Kish.
Laura’s first guide-dog Wagner contributed to immunotherapy research, and now with her second Seeing Eye® guide-dog Nugget, she is preparing for major art exhibitions in the coming months, including ArtMaastricht at TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair).
You don’t need sight to excel at Academics and Sports.
Humoody Smith was two when he was shot in the face and blinded by insurgents in Iraq.
Fast-forward 12 years and Humoody is thriving with his adoptive family in Washington State, achieving entry to the gifted academic program, excelling at competitive wrestling, and scoring as the long snapper for his school football team, while still enduring corrective surgeries.
His parents Randy and Julie Smith and their family have embraced Humoody in a loving environment that’s enabled him to become fearless, and a fierce junior advocate of WAFTB’s ‘No Limits’ philosophy.
You don’t need sight to make your football dream come true.
Jake Olson lost his sight at the age of 12 to the same thing that took the sight of WAFTB President Daniel Kish – retinoblastoma.
World Access For The Blind was privileged to work with Jake as his sight was diminishing to give him the knowledge, competence and confidence to get around independently.
A total sports nut, and a life-long USC Trojans fan, Jake is now the Long Snapper for the team as he studies at the University of Southern California. He’s inspired many, including our other sports nut – Humoody Smith.
You don’t need sight to earn a Master’s Degree in Choral Conducting while raising two boys!
Julee-anne is the epitome of ‘it’s never too late’. Though well-accomplished as a choral soloist and teacher, as well as a hands-on mother, there was one vital accomplishment that had eluded her.
Blind from birth, Julee-anne had a lifelong dependency on being guided around by someone else – most usually, her husband Thomas, or her sons.
That is, until what she calls ‘Eight Days That Changed My Life’ as posted on Huffington Post Australia Edition. Julee-anne discovered the work of Daniel Kish and her ‘Perceptual Liberation’ soon began.
You don’t need sight to stand-up for what is right.
The story of Lily-Grace Hooper being told she couldn’t use her full-length navigation cane at her school in Bristol, England went viral in 2015.
Despite the risk assessment, which set the whole thing off, being discredited by more knowledgeable experts, including Daniel Kish who also advocated on her behalf by providing research justifying the benefits of long cane use by blind children, the school wouldn’t budge.
Lily-Grace’s mum Kristy says her daughter is very happy at her new school and is much more supported and encouraged to be the ‘determined, confident young lady she is.’ We salute their work with Project Brailler.
You don’t need sight to find your rhythm in life.
Nine year-old Nava is a shining example of how a blind child can thrive with the right educational supports.
Many blind children face delayed language and mobility development if they’re not supported. For blind children on the Autism spectrum, the delays can be even more detrimental.
Such was the case with Nava. Since Daniel Kish began liaising between his family and the school district, and introducing him to FlashSonar™/ full-length cane navigation, Nava’s forging a pathway to better sensory organization and integration. He loves gadgets, musical percussion, wall climbing, therapy horse riding & more.
Nava Madani. #BlindNotBroken.
You don’t need sight to to be a world-class racing helmsman.
Matt Chao began his sailing experience in 1979, when he participated in the Carroll Center for the Blind’s recreational sailing program (which later became SailBlind). He has been part of the program since then will soon enter his 38th year with SailBlind.
Matt has advanced from a recreational sailor to that of a competitive sailor who has competed in seven World Blind Sailing Championships and over 20 U.S. Blind Sailing Nationals.
Additionally, he has competed successfully in several “mainstream” regattas against sighted sailors, often placing in the top three of finishers. Learn more about Matt Chao. #BlindNotBroken.
You don’t need sight to become a global music icon of ‘Soul Music’ as ‘The Genius’.
Ray Charles had a humble start in life as the son of a laborer and sharecropper, and found his sight fading from age 4 to 7 when he went blind from Glaucoma. As the last of his vision was leaving, he used to spend hours looking at the sun in search of any light.
He named Nat King Cole as a primary musical influence, and Ray himself would go on to influence other blind musicians we’re featuring, such as Stevie Wonder and Ellis Hall, as well as other music legends like Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison and Billy Joel.
It was never an easy life, filled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, but Ray went on to kick those habits & we’re happy to honor Ray Charles. #BlindNotBroken.
You don’t need sight to become a global music icon and a UN Messenger Of Peace.
Like some of our Instructors and students, Steveland Morris was born prematurely and lost his sight to ROP – retinopathy of prematurity.
He found music at an early age and signed with Motown Records at the age of 11. Since then, he’s sold over 100 million records worldwide, with over 30 Top Ten hits, been honored with 22 Grammy Awards, the most ever awarded to a male solo artist. Billboard magazine placed Stevie at #6 on their Billboard Top 100 All-Time-Top-Artists. Stevie has been honored with a whole range of awards for his music, and for his civil rights work, and it’s our honor to include him here.
You don’t need sight to be ‘The Ambassador of Soul.
Ellis Hall lost his sight to the same condition that blinded Ray Charles – Glaucoma – although Ellis managed to keep his sight until he was 18. Born in Georgia, his family moved to Massachusetts where he attended the Perkins School for the Blind as he continued to hone his musical abilities.
Ellis fronted ‘Tower of Power’ for a time as lead vocalist in the 80’s, and was later mentored by Ray Charles himself, before ‘Papa Ray’ died the week Ellis’ record on Ray’s label was coming out in 2004. Ellis has worked with other legends such as Stevie Wonder, Bobby Womack, Patti LaBelle and more, and is often a featured performer with Symphony orchestras.
Ellis Hall. #BlindNotBroken.
You don’t need sight to rock out a hit album or two.
It’s only when he reaches for his cane at the end of a set that some fans realize Casey Harris, keyboard player in the hit group X Ambassadors, is blind.
Born with a rare genetic condition called Senior-Loken syndrome which affects the retinas and kidneys, Casey received a donor kidney from his mother in 2010.
After being inspired by Stevie Wonder, he’s looking to be an ambassador for musicians who are living with a disability. We’re proud that World Access For The Blind’s Daniel Kish and Brian Bushway are featured in the video to X Ambassador’s first huge hit ‘Renegades’, now with over 23 million views.
Visioneers | World Access for the Blind strives to improve the quality of interaction between blind and sighted people by facilitating equal access to the world’s resources and opportunities.
We are interested in more than meeting the minimum requirements for functioning and life satisfaction. We believe in mutual respect, consideration, and accommodation of blind and sighted people by society. We expect to see the blind population rise, en masse, to new levels of productive participation and achievement to compare with those of sighted people.
We are developing and demonstrating a modern, holistic approach to blind movement and navigation that we call Perceptual Navigation, which greatly improves upon traditional methods and paradigms.
This more modern approach draws from cutting edge science of human perception and action. It is based on a philosophy of No Limits, and on a new paradigm of self-directed discovery and freedom first.
We are pioneering a new approach to delivering these strategies more broadly and economically. We are also helping to mobilize resources, facilitate collaborations, and provide specialized expertise in nonvisual human perception to guide and focus the development of more effective, respectful, and forward-thinking strategies and technologies to expand nonvisual capabilities.
Finally, we are embarking on a global public awareness campaign to bring to the attention of the general public at all levels the true challenges faced by blind people, as well as the true strengths, achievements, and capabilities possible for blind people.
We endeavor to help mobilize and direct global efforts toward the following aims:
– To develop and implement a model of instruction that is more respectful of blind dignity and purpose, easier to teach, learn, and use, and is more diversely applicable to all ages, cultures, backgrounds, and ability profiles.
– To develop and establish a model of service implementation that is lower cost, amd more applicable to all countries and cultures in all regions.
– To implement a broad reaching public awareness campaign that accurately show-cases blind people in terms of their true challenges , accomplishments, and achievement potential.
– To develop and maintain a science oriented, cross-disciplinary, evidence based clinical rationale for our approach.
– To support the development of research methodologies and technologies that effectively and respectfully address challenges faced by blind people, as well as capitalize on their achievements and capacities.
World Access for the Blind supports the idea that blindness is not as disabling as is commonly believed. Barriers to functioning associated with blindness arise more from poor interaction between blind people and society than from intrinsic deficiency.
We characterize blindness as a condition of life style with specific challenges requiring a strong capacity to adapt.
Blindness should not deny access to all the experiences and opportunities of the WORLD. In this spirit we proceed with two convictions:
1. How we delineate the challenges faced by blind people
2. How we aim to help blind people face them
According to the 1995 census there are over two million people in the U.S. whose visual impairment is severe enough to cause significant impact on the course of their daily living. Specifically they cannot drive or read standard print, and their ability to move around may be compromised. About twenty-five percent (25%) of that group is totally blind or without usable vision. World wide, the visually impaired population is estimated to number in excess of 37 million people (World Health Organization, 2003).
In the U.S. around seventy-five percent (75%) of working age blind adults are unable to maintain gainful employment (American Foundation for the Blind). In the population of children born with blindness that number rises to about ninety percent (90%). Without employment, it may be impossible to acquire the means and resources to participate fully and productively in the world community, resulting in isolation and poverty. This costs the U.S. government over 4 billion dollars annually (Prevent Blindness America). The remaining twenty five percent (25%), however, do obtain employment, often finding secure, respectable careers in nearly every field.
The achievement of that small percentage suggests that the dual problems of under employment and lack of community participation do not appear to arise strictly from reduced vision. We implicate lack of access to societal resources and lowered expectations and standards on the part of society, and often of the visually impaired themselves as critical barriers to full participation in the world community.
Society functions primarily through the smooth exchange of goods, services, and companionship. However, information and resources are made most readily available to the eye. The societal infrastructure and exchange network are designed to optimize the freedom, functioning, and enjoyment of sighted people – facing the blind with exclusion from this network.
The world is full of dangers and wonders which society assumes the use of vision to avoid or appreciate. Interactive sports, nature’s pastimes such as backpacking and rock climbing, extreme sports (e.g. mountain biking or power skating), leisure pastimes such as books and video games, and community programming such as scouts and little league activities are often closed to the blind a priori, or are only made available provisionally with restrictions that may severely compromise the purpose and enjoyment of the activity.
Still more threatening than being cut off from commerce and societal exchange is the negative state of general world consciousness regarding blind people. Popular belief has always contended that blindness leads directly to deficiency and incapacity. Consequently, blind people are often cast in a role of helpless dependence difficult to escape (“The Making of a Blind Man” by Dr. James Goodman), and “The Blind Need Not Apply” and “Seeing Beyond Blindness” By Dr. Ronald Ferguson. In addition to pervading general public consciousness, these views of deficiency in blindness have cast their sobering influence over all education and rehabilitative service professions, often resulting in the application of approaches that fall short of preparing and motivating blind clients to reach their full potential.
Children even more than adults tend to rise to the expectations set for them. Research has shown that low expectations tend to foster low achievement. For every time blind children are told they can do something, they are far more often warned they cannot or should not.
To varying degrees under various circumstances, blind people face significant challenges in accessing the world in the following three areas:
1. The physical world – refers to interaction with the physical environment. How does one know what and where things are and how to obtain them? How does one understand where one is or how to get where one wants to go?
Blind individuals may be disinclined to move freely and comfortably or, out of apprehension, society restricts movement of the blind individual. Research shows that in the case of children, this is likely to impede many areas of development that can ultimately result in unemployment, lack of participation in the community, social isolation, psychological maladjustment, and a host of physiological infirmities.
Intentional, self-directed movement is regarded as one of the more challenging areas faced by blind people. While lack of sight is often compensated by enhancing other senses, social barriers and mechanisms of over protection often hamper the perceptual development and development of functional movement in blind people.
Approaches to address the movement challenges of blind people have traditionally regarded these challenges from a “deficit” perspective, and have sought to remediate these perceived deficits by reducing the movement process into discrete skills, and attempting to reconstitute this process by teaching clients these skills. The efficacy of the results have been questionable.
2. The symbolic world – refers to the representation of language and exchange of ideas and information through symbols, including the written word and pictures. Society uses presentation of information through symbols to facilitate the exchange of goods, services, and ideas. This exchange provides the principal conduit for commerce, social contact, staying connected with world events, accessing resources and opportunities, warning of danger, providing direction, and managing day to day affairs. Symbols used by society are typically presented only to the visual system, so people with impaired vision are partly or totally excluded from this network of information exchange. Attempts to address the matter of disrupted information exchange have only focused on small pieces of the problem, and have often done so without input from blind people. They have often relied on the clemency of public agencies and corporations to accommodate blindness needs, but response to these needs has shown itself to be very limited and grudging.
3. The social world – refers to the quality of interaction between blind people and the social environment. An impaired ability to get around and function well in the world, together with substantial barriers to conventional forms of reading and writing are likely to compromise the ease and freedom of interaction between blind and sighted people. Healthy, constructive interaction is further impeded by blindness myths and stereotypes, negative expectations and perceptions, lower standards, and fears or apprehensions residing in both the sighted and blind people. Traditionally, social programming have segregated blind people into “blind sports”, relegated blind participants to menial positions, or imposed contrived roles that impose artificial disadvantages on sighted participants.
The public sector appears to lack a sound comprehension of the unique strengths and challenges facing blind people in a world that is sight dominated, and how to address these challenges effectively and respectfully. Assistive technology and adaptive strategies are currently sparse, poorly supported, and expensive. In addition, they are often developed and designed without a solid understanding of the non-visual perceptual system. Finally, they are often developed in isolation from other endeavors, leading to redundancies, and inefficient use of resources. Availability of public funding to provide assistive technology and instruction in the use of adaptive strategies is scarce.
Our Aim Toward a Solution
The Perceptual Mobility approach of World Access for the Blind to address this compromised access to the world by blind people is primarily based on an integration of modern neural science, perceptual theories and practice, ecological psychology, developmental theory and application, positive psychology, and occupational science.
It is rooted in the recognition of blindness as a condition of gain requiring adaptation, rather than loss requiring remediation or compensation per sé. We view the movement process as one of freedom and fluidity to be learned in a holistic, contextual, discovery based fashion.
We propose that, given conditions of mutual respect and regard of equality, adaptive mechanisms are free to activate, enabling the blind individual to achieve optimal levels of functioning and personal accomplishment. Our approach is three-fold:
First, we develop and use specialized techniques and assistive technology to improve access of blind individuals to personal resources. We improve mental skills, such as cognitive mapping, memory, and attitudes about self; and physical skills, such as perceptual-motor functioning, speed, and coordination. With improved access to personal resources, blind individuals can face and surmount the challenges before them from a position of strength, purpose, and authority.
Second, we work to improve access to the world environment by offering information, perspective, and specialized perceptual expertise to influence positively the efficient development of effective, respectful technology and strategies. We do this by infusing development efforts with knowledge of nonvisual perception, and by facilitating collaborative development efforts.
Third, we mobilize resources and garner public attention by raising public awareness of the issues relevant to blind people. We bring the strengths and potentials of blind people and the true challenges they face into the public eye. By improving the ability of blind people to access the world and by helping to bridge the immense gaps in understanding between sighted and blind people, it is expected that blind people will gain self direction over their achievement capacity through access to societal resources.
World Access for the Blind has determined that modern, state-of-the art sensor systems developed with the benefit of today’s rapid innovation in computer-human interface technology make possible the production of affordable, effective, and user friendly sensor devices to extend perception by alternative means. We favor a person centered system the functioning of which does not rely on specialized infrastructure or public clemency, but rests completely in the control of the user.
Vision is simply a sophisticated piece of biotechnology developed by nature over millions of years to perform specific functions.
World Access for the Blind stands on the frontier in guiding the development of modern technology and strategies that emulate the functions of vision.
For example, the application of echolocation and sonar systems to the enhancement of blind movement have already found fruition and can be brought to market for wide spread availability within the foreseeable future. Portable, fully integrated magnification systems can be readily designed from off-the-shelf video technology for the partially sighted in short order. Preliminary research into optical and radar systems have similarly shown exciting promise of unprecedented access to the physical and symbolic environments for blind and partially sighted people.
In this connection World Access for the Blind is laying the ground work and conceptual framework for the coordination of an interdisciplinary, applied research task force among top scientists to design, in short and long term, high definition sensory systems for blind use. We are also mobilizing specialized expertise and knowledge to develop curricula and instructional approaches to enable blind students to make full and effective use of these devices and gain much improved access to the world at all levels.
We are also developing and implementing specialized instructional methodologies to optimize the use of low tech devices, such as the cane or simple tactile compass, as well as natural means of perception and function, such as organically produced sonar signals, and the strategic use of tactual-kinesthetic processing. This is particularly relevant to very young children, and populations in developing countries and underserved regions.
Extensive research of blinded veterans shows that visually impaired people who are secure and capable in their movements are better adjusted psychologically and have an easier time maintaining gainful employment. We have found that they are more socially accepted by their sighted peers, and they are more likely to participate in commerce and in a wider range of recreational and social activities.
The positive impact of effective and safe movement can change lives. It engenders confidence and knowledge of self-worth which is critical to making a cogent difference in the total quality of life for blind people. It will open the way for the blind to participate in recreational and social activities with the sighted community and will give blind people the confidence and motivation to learn skills and expertise that will better enable them to maintain gainful employment.